This year, I decided to become a more flexible person, both mentally and physically. I knew it wouldn't be easy for me. I've always been very good at following rules and adhering to schedules, and I have always been very bad at exercising. However, a recent health scare (high blood pressure), and my doctor's consequent questions (Do you exercise regularly? Do you feel stressed? What are some things you enjoy doing?) caused me to merge reluctantly onto the Road to Wellness. I would rather have arrived at Wellness without making the difficult trip.
I signed up for Pilates, and along with my best friend, I showed up early for the first class. We unrolled the spongy mats they gave us, and I took off the gym shoes that I had purchased, ironically, to wear while exercising. Pilates does not require gym shoes. Some people, I noticed, were removing their socks as well as their shoes. I opted to leave my socks on since the tips of my toenails still had the scratched-up remains of some polish that I'd tried back in October. I made a mental note to remove the old polish before the next class.
We sat down on our mats. I tried to copy some moves that others were doing in order to warm up. The warm-up moves were not as easy as they looked. The backs of my knees would not flatten out against the mat. This definitely did not seem normal. When had I become so inflexible that I couldn't straighten my legs? I was going to be the worst in the class. I wondered if I should pretend I had an urgent call and leave. At this point, my mental inflexibility was kicking in. Not only was I physically inflexible, I was too mentally inflexible to try to become more physically flexible. I decided to stay, mainly because the other peoples' mats were blocking my exit.
The teacher was wearing yoga pants, a fitted top, and a cardigan sweater. She was going to lead exercises in a cardigan!? I had already broken into a nervous sweat, and the class had not even started. To my relief, the instructor walked back to my corner of the room and turned on a large oscillating fan. I still did not need a cardigan, but I was a little more comfortable.
She dimmed the lights, and class began. We worked for a long time on our breathing. I listened carefully as she explained the importance of breathing in and breathing out. As I lay there, on my mat, I became overly aware of the sounds of all of us breathing. I became so aware that I worried I was breathing too loudly. I have always been an overachiever. Someone was definitely breathing too loudly. I just wasn't sure if it was me. I held my breath for a few seconds to make sure I was not the loud breather. Satisfied that I was breathing at the right decibel, I waited for further instructions.
Most of the exercises were difficult for me, and a few of them were impossible; but the teacher kindly explained that we could modify. I was pleased that I had chosen a class that offered differentiated instruction. I struggled through the roll-ups, experienced a little success in the swim, learned how to force my belly button toward the mat ("as if a nail were pinning me there"), and followed directions when the teacher said, "Relax your face and neck." It was hard to relax my face and neck while pretending that a nail was pinning me to the mat; but I complied.
I didn't even try the seal; but I noticed that some other people in the class weren't ready for the seal yet, either. At least I didn't laugh out loud when the teacher demonstrated it. I was too busy breathing in and out quietly and relaxing my face and neck.
At the end of the hour, I felt a little stretched out, not only in my muscles, but also in my mind. I actually felt kind of...flexible.